Wilmington celebrates success bouncing back from Irene - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Wilmington celebrates success bouncing back from Irene

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Two years ago, parts of Vermont were underwater, hit hard by Tropical Storm Irene.

The floodwaters destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, and damaged hundreds of miles of roadway. Dozens of communities were cut off for days as the raging waters took their toll on our state's infrastructure. And six Vermonters lost their lives.

"When you lose six Vermonters in a storm, that is the part that you can never get back. To their families, to their friends, to the people that love them-- that is the toughest part," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.

Two years later, Vermont is still recovering.

More than 150 Vermonters are still in need of financial help. But there has been big progress. And some towns are celebrating how they've bounced back.

A chili lunch outside Dot's Restaurant in Wilmington would not have been possible two years ago. But Wednesday, the spicy dish tasted better than ever before.

"The chili is maybe the best I've ever tasted," said Alan Greenspan of Wilmington.

When Tropical Storm Irene hit this town, the swollen Deerfield River spilled its banks, bringing the entire community to a standstill.

"Devastating would be an understatement," Greenspan said. "It was beyond everybody's comprehension."

"On the day of Irene every business in town was closed. Everything was down. Police, fire, the whole town was down," said Lisa Sullivan of Wilmington Works. "Here we are two years later and we probably have three-quarters of our businesses back in the downtown."

For Dot's, which was heavily damaged during the storm, reconstruction continues. Gov. Peter Shumlin toured the renovations Wednesday, one of several stops on Irene's 2-year anniversary. Owners say it will take another six weeks before Dot's is back open.

"It's been a very rough two years," said Patricia Reagan of Dot's. "I think the first one was mostly depression and the last year has been focused on rebuilding."

Wilmington was one of dozens of communities throughout Vermont pounded by the tropical storm, which caused hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of damage and led to a federal disaster declaration.

"To use a baseball term, we are rounding third and heading for home," said Paul Ford of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA has provided more than $23 million to individual victims and nearly $226 million in public assistance. FEMA officials say a good relationship with the state helped speed up the recovery process.

"In this case we work with the governor's office directly. He had people on a task force that were directly involved with this. I think that was the critical piece-- to be able to have the relationship with the state," Ford said.

But for Wilmington and many other towns, more work needs to be done.

"We can't take it for granted, though. Got to keep going. This is a very difficult area because we are so dependent on tourism," Greenspan said.

And the tourists are once again coming back. Like Tom Johnson of Long Island who recently dealt with Hurricane Sandy and says Wilmington's progress gives him hope for loved ones back home.

"It sure does," Johnson said. "Everybody here is very nice, everybody is polite. Everyone is going out of their way to make me feel welcome."

A town moving on from one of the worst natural disasters in the state's history.

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